Union-Sounders observations: Union stave off playoff elimination with win

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Union-Sounders observations: Union stave off playoff elimination with win


CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union fought off playoff elimination Sunday afternoon as they overwhelmed defending MLS champion Seattle Sounders, 2-0, at Talen Energy Stadium.

Setting a new club record for home wins, the Union, now 10-13-9 overall, are four points out of playoff position with two games remaining. The Sounders, who could have clinched playoff position with a win, fall to 12-9-11.

• While the Union will likely end 2017 outside the playoff picture, they are roaring down the stretch at Talen Energy Stadium. The club is 3-1-1 in its last five matches at home, earning points against teams with a combined 52-35-38 record. That includes the Sounders, Chicago Fire, Atlanta United and FC Dallas.

• Now 9-4-3 at home, the Union set a club record for total wins in a single season. The previous record was eight, set in 2016. Now if the Union could do something about their 1-9-6 road record they might be onto something.

• According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Union have been surprisingly good at home since May 1.

• Motivated early, Fafa Picault and C.J. Sapong tested Stefan Frei in the 19th minute, firing off a pair of chances that were fought away by the goalkeeper. But while saving his club early, Frei would eventually break in the 28th minute, when Ilsinho lifted a pass to the right to Marcus Epps who collected himself before placing his left-footed chances past Frei for the opening goal.

• Following an offensive flurry midway through the second half that should have resulted in a Union goal, Ilsinho, who paced the attack, went down injured. Although he walked off under his own power, the Brazilian was replaced by Roland Alberg.

Alberg did what Alberg does in the 88th minute, crushing a right-footed shot from the left side of the box that completely fooled Frei and found the far corner, icing the Union’s 2-0 win. It was Alberg’s seventh goal in 22 games.

• Frustration mounted for the Union with 10 minutes to go in the first half when Picault, on a shoulder-to-shoulder breakaway with defender Kelvin Leerdam, was bodied to the ground just outside the box.

There was no foul called on the play, despite heavy protest from the Union. If called, the foul would have been a red-card ejection for Leerdam for impeding a clear scoring opportunity.

• Although the Union played a stellar match as a whole, Fabinho stood out. The left back was an offensive force, earning a team-high three shots.

• Coming off the bench in the 55th minute, Sounders forward Clint Dempsey entered the match for Jordy Delem, making the Sounders even more dangerous. The move paid off as Dempsey earned a pair of potent chances that were turned away by heroic Andre Blake.

Blake finished the match with a five-save shutout.

• Minutes before the match began, Chris Pontius was pulled from the starting lineup for Epps. According to the team, the veteran winger tweaked something in his abdomen. If the injury is serious, it could put an end to what has been a nightmare season for Pontius, who is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

• The injury to Pontius left the Union light at right wing, forcing Union manager Jim Curtin to get creative. In the 77th minute, rarely-used forward Jay Simpson spelled Epps on the right side.

Simpson made his presence felt in the 87th minute with a golden opportunity. He headed a chip pass from Picault that was pushed away by Frei. However, the play earned the corner that Alberg’s goal originated from.

• Keegan Rosenberry (ankle), Josh Yaro (knee) and Warren Creavalle (hamstring) were scratched from the match with injuries, allowing Ray Gaddis, Richie Marquez and Ilsinho to jump back into starting positions. For the Sounders, Jordan Morris, Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso missed the match.

• Next up, the Union travel to Chicago to challenge the Fire, who are 11-2-3 at Toyota Park this season. The Union crushed the Fire, 3-1, on Sept. 23 at Talen Energy Stadium.

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

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Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

CHESTER, Pa. — When Saturday’s game ended, Union midfielder Borek Dockal told head coach Jim Curtin two things: that his body felt fine and that he knows he can play a lot better.

That’s probably just about all Union fans need to hear.

Sure, it was a mostly uneventful and somewhat disappointing MLS debut for the team’s new Designated Player in a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC (see observations). But it’s also a long season and Dockal is still trying to mesh with his teammates and get his fitness up after dealing with a preseason ankle injury.

“I think he had some good moments,” Curtin said. “I think you can see his quality and how comfortable he is on the ball. He can pass and he looks forward. … [But] it’s been a week where he’s really trained with the group, so you see a ball played behind when he’s looking to play through. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But overall [I’m] happy with the amount of minutes he was able to push.”

Dockal, signed only three days before the start of the 2018 season, was a tougher critic on himself after sometimes struggling to connect passes and move to the right spot in his 77 minutes of action. But the Czech playmaker also acknowledged that he needs more time to adapt to MLS and learn his teammates’ tendencies.

“For me, it was the first game so it was a little bit about how to find my space on the field, to see how my teammates are moving, which kind of positions should I be in the most to help them,” said Dockal, who sat out the Union’s first game — a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. “So I just have to learn from this first game and be better the next game.”

Expectations will certainly be raised when the Union play their next game, in two weeks, on the road against the Colorado Rapids. But expectations are already high for Dockal, who has experience in the Champions League and with the Czech Republic national team.

Along with fellow newcomer David Accam — who he said the team needs to find more on the wing — Dockal is filling in what was a major position of need last year and should provide a major offensive punch in the midfield, playing in front of veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

“My performance definitely can be better,” Dockal said. “But I have to start at some point so it would actually be a miracle if I played an excellent game today.”

“Overall, it’s a first step and nothing replicates these games,” Curtin said. “We didn’t put him on the ball as much as we would have liked. ... But he's an incredibly talented guy."

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

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Union lifeless in draw with Crew

CHESTER, Pa. — In a matchup of two teams with perfect records, it ended up being a stalemate.

On Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union and Columbus Crew SC fought to a scoreless draw as goalkeepers Andre Blake and Zack Steffen finished with three saves apiece.

The Union move to 1-0-1 on the season while the Crew, who entered the day in first place in the Eastern Conference, sit at 2-0-1.

• With the Union coming off a weird early bye week, the game lacked fluidity for much of the first half as both teams only put one shot on target before halftime. 

• Borek Dockal, the Union’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut after sitting out the opener. The Czech playmaker looked tentative early in the match and had some giveaways in the second half before coming out in the 77th minute. It’s too early, of course, to make any judgements but that probably wasn’t the kind of debut head coach Jim Curtin hoped to see.

• David Accam, the team’s other prized newcomer, enjoyed good start to the second half and was active throughout in his second game in Philly. It shouldn’t be long before he opens his account for the Union.

• Steffen came through with a couple of big saves early in the second half for Columbus. It might be hard for some Philly fans to see the Downingtown native and former Union academy player on the visiting side, even if they do get to cheer for a star ’keeper of their own in Blake.

• CJ Sapong, fresh off signing a new contract, couldn’t get on the ball much or even get any shots off. The Union striker had three goals and three assists in seven previous meetings against the Crew.

• On the other end of the field, Gyasi Zardes was held in check after scoring three goals in his first two games for Columbus following a trade from the LA Galaxy. That’s a good sign for the progress of Philly’s young center backs, Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty.

• Ray Gaddis entered the game as a halftime sub for Fabinho, who left with a leg injury. Fabinho and Gaddis are both two of the club’s longest-tenured players, and Gaddis being able to play as both a left back and right back is a nice luxury to have off the bench.

• Despite an announced attendance of 15,323, the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium looked smaller than usual — and with less energy. A lot of that probably has to do with the on-field play but in general, the Union seem to have a better home-field advantage during night games, when the atmosphere is more electric.

• A shoutout to the Sons of Ben, though, for unveiling some cool Philly tifo before kickoff — a “cheesesteak shark” preying on a boat of Crew rowers underneath the word “Jawns.” 

• The Union — who are 4-1-1 in their last six meetings with the Crew — are off again next weekend before before facing Colorado on March 31 in their first road game of 2018.